Museums never show everything in their collections at one time. Some objects, despite the prestige of belonging to a museum, are in no condition to be displayed, and other works that seldom, if ever, see the light of day may be further examples of works already on exhibit. Some artifacts are for research purposes only. But the main reason you’re likely to see only a fraction of a museum’s holdings at any one time is because of lack of space. That’s why the Museum of International Folk Art’s 136,000-object collection is mostly tucked away in climate controlled storage. In 1998, after the museum acquired a major folk art donation from collector Lloyd Cotsen, former chief executive officer and president of Neutrogena Corporation and founder of the Cotsen Foundation for the Art of Teaching, they opened Lloyd’s Treasure Chest: Folk Art in Focus, a permanent behind-the-scenes exhibition that highlighted objects from Cotsen’s collection and gave visitors a hands-on experience. The exhibit, connected to the museum’s basement prep storage facilities, offered glimpses, through a pane of glass, into the stacks of the Neutrogena Vault, where researchers and curators, after donning protective cotton and latex gloves, carefully handle artifacts. In the Treasure Chest, visitors could get an inside look at the practices in place for protecting the artwork, as well as open drawers where objects are arrayed in flat files and, of course, view the collection that gives the Neutrogena Wing its name.
After an extensive renovation, the museum reopens Lloyd’s Treasure Chest on Sunday, Jan. 29, with an ongoing series of hands-on activities for all ages including origami-making, kite-coloring, and community basket-making. Visitor favorites from the collection are featured, such as artist Dwight Martinek’s sculpture Last of the Red-Hot Lovers, a wedding rickshaw from Bangladesh, and the unlikely interspecies pairing of Ray, a life-sized wolf made of fabric and dressed in his Sunday best, and Elsie, his bovine counterpart in a floral print dress. Objects in Lloyd’s Treasure Chest rotate regularly, based on themes such as Syrian folk art and Chinese opera, so each visit brings new opportunities and surprises.
In addition, the museum is planning to revamp the visitor information to its Girard Wing by spring or summer of 2019. The objects in the Girard Wing exhibit Multiple Visions: A Common Bond, from the collection of architect and designer Alexander Girard, has remained unchanged, per Girard’s request, since it opened in 1982. “We’re going to add some interpretation to it,” said Laura Addison, the museum’s curator of European and American folk art. Addison and the museum’s collections manager Polina Smutko are traveling to Weil am Rhein, Germany, to oversee the deinstallation of objects on loan to the Vitra Design Museum for the exhibition Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe. “While I’m there, I’m going to do some research in their archives about Girard so that we can have material for making a video. We want additional materials for better visitor engagement. There’s a brochure that hasn’t been redone in terms of content in many years. We want to have a more 21st-century means of understanding the installation.”
The reopening of Lloyd’s Treasure Chest coincides with the museum’s second annual Lunar New Year Celebration. The exhibit is free from 1 to 4 p.m. on the 29th and by museum admission afterward. The Museum of International Folk Art is located at 706 Camino Lejo. Call 505-476-1200 for more information.